Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Little Bit on Process

King for a Day

Yesterday was another dark, snowy day, but it felt less playful than our first winter snow this year. It fell heavy and hard, suffocating the streets with the fullness of its body. When I am teetering on the edge between stress and a meltdown at work, I find myself far less capable of perceiving the world for what it really is. The world gets cloudy and claustrophobic and I find myself far less able to approach strangers for a kiss. 

I have to be in a certain place mentally and emotionally for the job, and I can almost always tell ahead of time whether or not my approach will be successful because it more often than not has to do with me than others. To get strangers to kiss, you really have to be a salesman, selling something to strangers that they think they neither want nor need, yet you have to show them that in fact it is something they want and need. They want to connect and they need the world to come together, lest we destroy each other in senseless warfare or factioning. 

If any small part of me doubts my own admittedly far-reaching arguments or questions my own faith in the project, the stranger I’ve approached will see straight through me and walk away, understandably convinced that they have better things to do with their time. If I approach with conviction and joy, on the other hand, I’ve found very few people are willing or able to say no. Call it politeness or a fear of disturbing the peace but whatever it is, joy and conviction can dissolve the walls and gets the job done.

When I’m on a roll though, getting two strangers to kiss is still often an awkward process. I usually wander heavily traversed streets looking for faces, well aware of the fact that in reality, I'll take whatever I can get. A person that looks lost or someone who is waiting for something (a bus or cab) is usually the first one I try and talk to. I introduce myself, give them a one-sentence explanation of the project and ask if they would mind taking part in it. I skip over the hesitation of their obliging answer, thank them and immediately search for a counterpart. With one subject found, the second becomes much easier. There really is power in numbers.

I’ll approach absolutely anyone who crosses the path of my first subject to see if they’ll join in as the second at this point, and most times the passerby will happily, or at least willingly oblige. Then it’s just a matter of taking the picture. I usually shoot three pictures without insisting on a kiss so people can get a bit more comfortable with each other. Almost no one will kiss in frame one. By the fourth frame, though, I reiterate what the project is all about and won’t fire until I see some kissing action. Once the capture is made, I thank them, ask them to sign releases, and learn a bit about their background before they go on their way.

I would love to start taking more time with people to interview properly but this 10-15 minute dance usually takes place on my way to work in the morning and sadly, I am often as rushed as my subjects are to get where I'm going. I’d like this to change for the weekend. This weekend, I would like to slow this whole process down and get more information about each individual because the true pleasure of this project is living its mission statement day in and day out. The pleasure comes from getting to know a little bit about each person, getting to know all the things you share and ways you differ, folding their story into someone elses and folding that story into my own. That is what it’s all about. That is what keeps me going when I’m teetering between stress and a meltdown on a snowy day in New York City- the fact that I can walk away from a stranger and sincerely say, “It was a pleasure meeting you.”

Because we're all family


  1. magnificent and i have arrived at these same conclusions totally independently. we are doing the right thing, ms. stember.
    great things too.

    i am gonna kick this cold by tomorrow night and get some more kisses/interviews. then more...friday/sat/sun i have events. soooo many events.

    *sniffle* stupid cold.

  2. yay! well i am going to have to be more like you and get out to parties and the like. ok, who wants to invite me to a party?!